Genesis 41:1 – 44:17
In this Torah portion, Joseph interprets the dreams of the Pharaoh, predicting seven years of plenty and seven years of famine, and as result becomes Viceroy or Prime Minister, the second most powerful man in Egypt. After the famine began, his brothers come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize him. He keeps his identity hidden while he decides to test them. It will be yet some time before he reveals himself and asks for his father.
Biblical scholars have long wondered why Joseph never contacted his father. He’s called a tzaddik, a righteous man so how to explain this? Wouldn’t he have realized that his father was grieving?
Nachmanides (the Ramban) suggested in his commentary that Joseph could not have contacted his father until the dreams of his youth came true. Only then could he be vindicated and reveal himself to his family.
Other commentators disagree with this view. Dreams are in the domain of God, they say; let Him worry about dreams. It is man’s job to do what is ethical, and the ethical thing for Joseph would have been to inform his father Jacob that he was alive and well.
A contemporary writer takes yet another position. Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun has suggested that perhaps the question is not Why did Joseph not contact Jacob? but instead, Why did Jacob not try to contact Joseph?
The answer seems straightforward; Jacob thought that Joseph was dead. However, Joseph had no idea what had happened back at home, and he could well have been asking himself: “Why doesn’t my father contact me?” We can agree that the sequence of events, from Joseph’s perspective, may suggest that line of thought.
Consider: Joseph knew that Jacob was well aware of the hostility between Joseph and his brothers. Could Joseph have wondered why Jacob sent him to look for his brothers in the first place?
Furthermore, there was a pattern in the family’s history that whenever relatives did not get along, the solution was to separate. It happened between Abraham and Lot, between Ishmael and Isaac and even with his father Jacob and his uncle, Esau. Could Joseph have assumed that because of all the dissension he stirred up in his father’s house, Jacob had decided to send him away?
Could it be that only upon learning from Judah that Jacob thinks his favorite son had been “ripped apart by beasts” [Genesis 44:28] did Joseph realize that his father thought that he was in fact dead? Is that realization what prompted Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers at that moment and send for his father?
Another viewpoint: Given Joseph’s intimate relationship with his father Jacob, is it possible that Joseph thought, How can I expose to my father the terrible thing my brothers did? And if I betray them to my father, am I not doing as they did to me? What good will come of it? Shall my father lose his other ten sons because I make myself known to him?
According to this approach, Joseph’s consideration was completely selfless. To have been reunited with his father would clearly have been a great personal triumph for him, but it would have had tragic consequences. Therefore, Joseph chose to remain apart.
In Tune with Torah this week = try to imagine yourself in Joseph’s position. What would you have done? And why?